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In the world of smartphones, Samsung's Android phones dominate the market. But instead of a close-knit team that's sweeping the mobile world, Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL ) and Samsung look more like two competitors handcuffed together by mutual interests.
Samsung has expressed interest in leaving the Android party in the past, and a new partnership with Mozilla may be the key to making that transition a reality.
Browsing the future
Earlier this month, Firefox creator Mozilla announced on its blog that it's teaming up with Samsung to create a new mobile browser engine built specifically for hardware found in most mobile devices today.
The browser engine is built on a coding language called Rust that Mozilla says is safer and is less prone to crashes than current browser engines. Samsung's partnership with Mozilla gives the company influence and access over a new way of mobile surfing.
So why's this an important move for Samsung?
Sammy is extremely dependent on Android for its mobile browser and OS platform, and it's looking to make a move away from Google's mobile darling. In its launch of the Galaxy S4, Samsung hardly mentioned that the phone runs on Android, probably a purposeful omission. Samsung has been developing its own operating system, called Tizen, and will launch a few phones with the OS in regional markets later this year. Tizen isn't close to replacing Android any time soon, but it's a way for Samsung to test new ways to break free from Google.
The partnership with Mozilla is yet another way to do that. If Samsung can move away from Google's Android OS and Chrome browser, then it will grab more control over its users' smartphone experience. Aside from browsers, Mozilla is also developing its own mobile operating system to compete with Android. If Samsung and Mozilla can work well together on a browser, then teaming up for a future mobile OS may be the next step.
Anything but easy
It's still unclear what exactly will come about from the Mozilla/Samsung partnership, if anything. For now, it's yet anther indication that Samsung would like more control over its phones and the OS they run on. Google, on the other hand, should be at least a little concerned with Samsung's desire to ditch the green droid, considering Sammy is estimated to hold about 30% of the global smartphone market. Although companies don't pay to use Android, Google makes money from the OS through search advertising and the Google Play store.
Completely ditching Android would be a very big and difficult step for Samsung. For one thing, the company's smartphone users are already used to the platform. Although Samsung has built out some of its own features within the OS, starting its own system may be easier said than done.
Take, for example, Nokia's (NYSE: NOK ) move to the Windows Phone OS. Nokia wasn't using Android for its platform before it moved to Windows Phone, but it is trying to sell phones that aren't running on Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL ) iOS or Android -- which have a combined smartphone global market share of 91% right now.
In China, where Nokia once held 50% of the mobile market share, it now holds just 1% because of Android and iOS. Samsung doesn't want to walk down the same road as Nokia, so it needs to make its transition from Android slowly if it wants to do it successfully.
With Samsung's browser partnership with Mozilla, the company can slowly test the waters of moving away from Android without jeopardizing its current place in the mobile world. Consumers should keep an eye out for how this new relationship grows and how much Samsung gets involved in building the browser engine. If the company launches a Mozilla-based mobile browser on its devices in the near future, then it may mean the company is breaking free from Google's grip -- which would be quite a feat.
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